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July 11, 2014

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one wonders why there isn't a standing order from all countries that the CIA station chief be expelled, once known.

The obvious reason being that you can't keep an eye on someone you don't know. Why play whack-a-mole, when you can just keep an eye on someone you know? Far better use of resources . . . unless you reach a point where you want to make a political and/or diplomatic point.

There's passing classified information to journalists - and then there's trading in it for cold hard cash:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-07-08/banks-dreading-computer-hacks-call-for-cyber-war-council.html
"...Alexander had been pitching Sifma and other bank trade associations to purchase his services through his new consulting firm, IronNet Cybersecurity Inc., for as much as $1 million per month, according to two people briefed on the talks..."

I remember Greenwald saying months ago that the most shocking story was still to come, but I thought maybe it was this one, about the spying on the Muslim-Americans.

I have to say that I have gained a lot of respect for Greenwald. I was dismissive of him in the past when he was indulging in some amateur behavioral analysis (see: "Bush authoritarian cult"), but this is real. It's not an assessment, it's factual.

Whether we should or should not be surveilling people in this manner is another conversation entirely. Greenwald thinks we should not, and I agree with him. This is really a fourth amendment issue, as well as an issue of (to a certain extent) uncontrolled and unsupervised agency overreach.

Back when Bush was in office, the argument was that surveillance without a warrant was unnecessary because FISA would basically approve most surveillance requests. The flipside of that is: if FISA is a rubber-stamp court, what purpose is it serving?

i must admit, i was firmly anti-Snowden when he and Greenwald started releasing stuff. and i felt that way because the early stuff seemed to be completely misunderstood and blown way out of proportion by both the pro and the amateur media. plus, i know people in the NSA whos opinion i respected, and when i talked to them when this all started, they thought it was overblown, too.

but, as time has gone on, my skepticism has been pretty much completely buried by the steady accumulation of these revelations. the NSA (and the rest of our 'security' hydra) really is completely out of control.

and, Greenwald is still an ass. but he's done a good job in getting this stuff out.

Then there is the intentional spying on people because they are muslims

Schneier makes some good points that:

https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2014/07/nsa_spied_on_pr.html

Especially concerning that using the 3-hop rule, contacts at the EFF, anybody they contacted, and anybody THEY contacted are all in the dragnet. Because they are associated with someone that is under investigation. For a good reason, no doubt, that will be emerging soon.

He also places it in the context of what else was happening at the time (Holy Land Foundation prosecution), and changes that occurred to FISA law shortly thereafter.

Worth reading.

early stuff seemed to be completely misunderstood and blown way out of proportion

I think that's true, and a lot of it still is. Taking Germany, I'm entirely unsurprised we were recruiting spies in the government. That's pretty much what the CIA does (which is not to say Germany can't be pissed about it). I'm pretty sure other nations likely have spies in our government. That all seems like rote spycraft stuff to me. Maybe I should be scandalized but I'm not.

Tapping Merkal's phone was just really stupid, on the other hand.

I have to say that I have gained a lot of respect for Greenwald

I credit Greenwald for a few things. He tends to dig up facts other people don't report on, and while they are often wrapped in partisan warble-barble and overstrung conclusions, the facts are typically cleanly stated and well sourced. In other words, I've used him as a source of information, and always felt free to form my own conclusions.

Second, he's been very good about releasing the documents slowly. Which has forced the NSA/Administration to pretty transparently change their justifications. Also, it keeps it in the public eye far longer, enabling the much needed discussion of what do we want our security apparatus to do, and what tools do we want to give them to do it.

Oh, and relevant:

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/07/10/233005/justice-sees-no-crimes-in-senate.html

DOJ isn't going to go after staffers or the CIA in the whole CIA spying on staffers thing.

I can't say I'm surprised.

thompson - thanks for the McClatchy link. I'm still surprised Brennan is serving as CIA Director after what Feinstein said about the agency on the Senate floor. Maybe this will bubble up more strongly again after the mid-terms.

nobody will reign in the security apparatus. the political downside to being portrayed as the person who let the terrorists sneak through is too great.

Maybe this will bubble up more strongly again after the mid-terms.

I'm hoping the overall story stays prominent until the presidential campaigns. It would be good to see candidates actually address this.

the political downside to being portrayed as the person who let the terrorists sneak through is too great.

Sadly, yeah. And it will remain that way until voters insist on someone that treats them like adults: there are risks, we will never be 100% safe, and we need a national discussion on how far we want to go to reduce risk.

The flipside of that is: if FISA is a rubber-stamp court, what purpose is it serving?

For the 2nd, or perhaps the 3rd time (after a while one loses track), I agree with Slartibartfast. A rubber-stamp is not a "court" in any meaningful sense of the word, and its purpose is to merely serve as a fig leaf.

"I'm pretty sure other nations likely have spies in our government. That all seems like rote spycraft stuff to me. Maybe I should be scandalized but I'm not."

Yeah, I'm pretty sure that the Brits have spies deeply embedded in the US government, just for the sheer fun of it.

You can be pretty sure that there are no high-placed German spies. The BND has been a laughing stock almost from the start after WW2 and I am not aware that that has changed.
I wonder if we ever had a competent intelligence service. The only thing we were once good at was code-breaking but those guys who did that got for the most part ignored (e.g. they knew that ENIGMA could be broken and how but their superiors could not imagine that the enemy would invest serious money into that because they themselves could never get adequate funding).

I thought the East German intelligence service was known as very good, although perhaps that was limited to internal purposes only. Or, I'm just flatly mistaken in all respects (as usual).

But the GDR went away and the FRG with its BND stayed. I think the Stasi was less effective than its propaganda proclaimed. Plus it suffered from the limitless data collectomania (does that ring a bell?) that made it simply impossible to find the decisive bits in the ocean when they were really needed. The guys collected smell samples of dissidents for G#d's sake! And there were clear signs of institutional Parkinson. They never trusted their 'inofficial coworkers' (=informers) and so many of them spied on each other. What they were good at was making life miserable for their targets when the object became 'degradation' (Zersetzung) instead of info gathering (this could get rather Truman-Show-esque serially replacing a person's environment with agents). The intent was of course to create an Orwellian mutual distrust but in the end the resulting unpleasant atmosphere became the regime's downfall (after Gorbachev left no doubt that he would NOT send the Red Army to save the gerontocracy.
The final dot was set by the boss of the Stasi himself creating hysterical laughter when he proclaimed before the newly elected East German parliament 'But I love everyone, all people'.
The external intelligence agency (Hauptabteilung Aufklärung) was seen as less incompetent than its Western counterpart (BND) but stood always in the shadow of its big Russian brother (even their official agency song was a translated Soviet one).

Interesting, thanks Hartmut!

I've always assumed that even friendly countries had a few discreet spies here and there. Not a massive effort like one we would expect with an unfriendly country, but some modest intel. (Have we ever been any good at spying on the bad guys Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes is infuriating in equal parts because of the abuses he records and the incompetence he reveals.) If they become indiscreet or excessive, then there has to be the usual huffing and puffing, but the concept doesn't bother me.

If they become indiscreet or excessive, then there has to be the usual huffing and puffing, but the concept doesn't bother me.

I'd agree with that, and the rest of your comment.

Maybe there are no foreign spies from friendly nations on US soil. I don't know, or even where to begin to find out. I hit a dead end with the unsourced line in wikipedia "Many governments routinely spy on their allies as well as their enemies, although they typically maintain a policy of not commenting on this." And, of course, Israel has been caught spying on us a couple of times. Whether other friendly nations do as well, I'd suspect yes, but don't have any evidence for that suspicion.

I will yield to Hartmut's superior knowledge of the BND, however.

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